By Dominic Smith
New manager fever strikes any club, but it’s hardly surprising in our case. The increasingly imminent prospect of a whole year of dour hoofball under Warnock coming to an end is alone exciting enough for the fans. But the rumoured replacement, Nigel Adkins, feels like it fits.
With an enviable track record at Southampton of back to back promotions, predicated on direct, attacking football and the blooding of a series of exciting young players, Adkins would mark a serious change of direction from GFH.
He’s obviously flawed. Southampton’s defensive record this season, 40 conceded in 22 games before his departure, wasn’t great. Games were thrown away from winning positions, most memorably when Man Utd came to St Mary’s, when he made inexplicable substitutions. They ran City close on the opening day, but could have run them closer had he picked Rickie Lambert rather than goal-shy Guly do Prado to lead the line. But his record is still impressive.
And there’s enough in the squad for Adkins to work with. The squad Warnock has assembled over the last 12 months is probably more solid defensively than the one inherited from Simon Grayson. Little immediate work needs to be done here. Most criticism has been labelled at the ‘honest’ midfield, full of perennial Championship also-rans, the lumbering physicality of Rodolph Austin and meandering thuggery of Michael Brown. But – to be reasonably fair to them – they’re dealt a fairly impossible hand. David Norris, full of energy, always busy and looking for the ball when I saw him at Ipswich, now seems to have inherited the Jonny Howson mantle of always being 5 yards from the ball, where it just was, scrapping for possession, rather than actually receiving it directly in open play. This is probably because the ball mostly lands in midfield as a result of a clearance from one of the endless supply of long straight balls delivered straight down the throats of Championship defenders.
Warnock implemented this system quickly, and Adkins could close it down just as fast. All footballers playing in the Championship SHOULD be able to try to pass the ball in the first instance. Even sideward would be a start. Adkins has also shown willingness to blood young players. Despite signing Steven Davis from Rangers in the summer for Southampton, he gave 17-year-old James Ward-Prowse a league debut against City. Fellow 17-year-old Luke Shaw ousted established left back Danny Fox from the side. The likes of Chris Dawson and Dominic Poleon must be praying for an Adkins appointment.
But more than all of this, it would mark a cultural shift. Too many recent appointments have just not fit. Wise had his eye on something bigger, McAllister was borne of dewy-eyed romanticism and Warnock thinks he’s bigger than the club. Only Grayson FELT right, and he was undone by idiocy at board level. Leeds fans can be patient. We don’t need immediate success. What we need is evidence of a plan, of commitment, not just to promotion but to rebuilding the fabric of the club and laying the groundwork for the next era. Every win this season has felt like a fluke. We need someone with a different philosophy, to instil a sense of what it means to be Leeds and the winning mentality that comes with it. Adkins may not be perfect, but he ticks enough boxes that he deserves a chance to make it happen.
(And yes, I know Alex McLeish was seen at the Etihad. Just choosing to ignore that one.)
Follow Dominic on Twitter (@domothebold)